Okay, have to pop in here. I wanted to when I saw the recent post about 'fish food lures' but wanted to be a little more complete on my post... this should be fun, and I hope not to offend anyone of our pellet fishin’ friends that I respect so much.
Hopefully this will be a different perspective – and I apologize that the post got a little wordy. This may be long, but it's the weekend.
One day I’ll write up something even longer on this topic as it’s incredibly interesting and I think very important to growing ‘trophy’ or ‘world class’ fish.
First, it's your pond so do whatever the you want. If you want easy fishing, use a pellet. It’s your pond and your fish!
But in my pond, much like Bill, I'd never throw a pellet like lure. At least not right now.
Why? My current goal is to grow the heck out of my fish. I’m trying to create something special, and I want a special big fish. Targeted feed species in my pond are BG. Other fish eat the feed as well. I have other pond goals, but darn it I want to grow a 2-3lb BG. A real one – in real life, in my own little pond. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in the desire for big, fat, sumo wrestling NFL type quality athletic-obese fish.
How do you get fish that are really special and maximize their own individual growth potential? Genetics determines much, including their individual potential – but after that its water quality, habitat, environment, fish health, longevity, activity level, etc. etc. - and then you maximize the number of calories they eat during their lifetime. Just like people, not all of us have perfect genes, we just happen to eat a lot on our way to becoming lunkers!
For this post I’ll ignore all the other issues above and the details of the nutritional analysis and focus on maximizing quality food intake to make this simple as it relates to why I supplement with feed and why I wouldn’t use a pellet lure. (note: genetics are important, and I think I started with great fish from Todd Overton and chose his fish because of the great things people say about them)
I'm entirely confident the above means that I want my fish eating as much as possible with the best nutrition. If in order to maximize growth potential, any individual BG in my pond is going eat X amount of food over their lifetime, my goal is to maximize X. Period. Maximize X for each month they're alive, and maximize X for each year that they're alive. Why do fish grow bigger in areas with longer growing seasons? It’s not because warmer water grows bigger fish, it’s because optimal temperatures both provide more natural food and the fish are optimally active and eat more food for longer periods of time.
Again, I want my fish eating as much as they’ll eat. If I can figure out a way to get them to eat more, I’m going to do it. If I can do things to prevent my fish from eating less, I’ll do that as well.
It’s clear that fish learn – and I don’t think that’s disputable. They may not be super smart like a human or even a dog, but they do learn and anyone who’s spent they’re life in the pursuit of fish can vouch for the fact that it’s amazing how smart these pea-brained swimming creatures can be – or at least how their behavior is at least ‘smart-like’. (maybe not HSB, but I’m sure even they do learn)
Fish like to eat, spawn, and stay alive. In environments where fish are predated or at risk, they get cautious. Birds, fisherman, nets, or bigger fish – any type of predator that threatens their life changes their behavior.
Have FH in a pond with nothing else? What do they do? They lazily roam about finding food. Throw a pellet in the middle of the pond and they’ll nibble without fear. The only time they’re skittish is when spawning. Throw a predator in the pond, and the behavior changes within a day. They get in tight schools, swim the shallows, and put survival in front of rest and eating. It’s not that the surviving fish has been eaten, clearly it hasn’t. But behavior changes. Same for any fish in my belief – and if you want to scare your pond full of 5lb bass, put it a 30lb Muskie. It won’t behave or predate (EAT) the same again.
We know fish learn from fishing and watching fish. Amazingly (at least I think it’s amazing) is that fish can sense the smallest of details. No, fish don’t “think” like we do, but they react differently and change their behavior. Change a lure just a little bit, catch lots of fish. Fish with a perch colored lure when LMB are eating shad, you’re going to probably catch less than your partner throwing a shad imitation. Even over long periods of time certain techniques don’t produce like they used to, so new lures and new techniques are developed.
Stupid fish? Nope. Fish are pretty smart – or at least want to stay alive. A fish figures out that if he bites a squiggly thing with a chartreuse tail that it gets it’s life threatened and ripped out of the water it doesn’t do that very often. It stops eating squiggly things with chartreuse tails as aggressively and will eat the brown crunchy thing with claws instead. Sure if it hasn’t eaten in 7 days survival kicks in and it might bite it again, but clearly fish learn and will change the way they predate.
I’d also argue that George has proven this numerous times in his quest to find a pellet that will produce the best (yes, lots of old posts talk about that.) The goal is to find the bait that the fish eats most aggressively/readily. That bait is more often than not a bait that resembles as closely as possible what it normally eats. (same with live bait fishing as recently discussed in another post)
Is it ironic (instructive actually) that on a recent post a new pellet imitation lure caught more than the old lure that is exact food they eat all the time. Todd stated “George Glazener recently had his wife Nicky try some while he used his conventional pellet fly and she whipped him 10 fish to 3.”
This didn’t surprise me at all in George’s pond. Why? Fish learn – and my guess is they’re not eating the feed as aggressively as they are eating something they’ve never seen before. They still eat the feed of course, but not as aggressively as if they didn’t have some negative consequences once in a while eating that feed. Now is that really a good thing?? It all depends. ☺
Small Short-term Difference = Big Long-term Difference
I think we can agree that fish change their predation behavior based on what they experience. I think we can also agree that it’s impossible to see a fishes unfulfilled potential.
But I don’t want a 5-10% difference in aggressiveness towards pellets, yet a 20-30% difference or even more. I’d argue that as Bill did the casual pond owner wouldn’t even notice the 20-30% difference, yet a 5-10%. The reality is the average pond owner is getting better growth rates than normal with any use of feed, so the fact that optimal isn’t being reached is almost insignificant to the pond owner.
Sure the fish will still eat 70% of what it used to, but that’s not ‘optimal.’ George’s fish are still eating pellets, but clearly they’ll try another random lure before the pellet. They're trying to find food that doesn't threaten their life. I just don’t want my fish eating 7 Aquamax 600 pellets instead of 10 every day for the rest of its life. I want it eating the extra 3 pellets, or 1000 each year or 10,000 over it's lifetime. (numbers are examples, you get the point)
And I don’t want it getting incrementally more wary each year of it’s life as it’s caught – even a couple times a year. I believe the more times a fish has a bad experience the more tentative they'll become. Yes I still might grow really ‘nice’ fish – and since they’re on feed probably better fish than anyone ever catches at any lake. But with all the other variables that we’ve got to deal with outside of feed, I’m really happy that is one that we’ve got an advantage on over nature – and I’m not about to mess with it.
“Don’t catch your fish”
I was blessed to have Bob Lusk and Mark Griffin over to my place a couple weeks ago, and we were talking about this very topic in a way and had a great discussion about this. I'm not sure we came to any conclusion, but I’ll argue in my ‘don’t catch your fish’ argument that most likely any world class fish has been caught very few times in its life – and ideally or probably never. I think anytime a fish gets caught not only does it suffer stress, but its predating behavior will change. I think for a fish to reach it’s potential, it’s going to be aggressive to a fault it’s entire life.
This won’t be noticed because it’s absolutely impossible to notice that a fish didn’t reach it’s potential. I.e. catch an 15 lb bass and you’re going to be giddy (I know I would be). You can’t know that if it wasn’t caught five times in its life when it was under 12 lbs it would have been 18 lb instead on the day it was caught because it might have eaten more aggressively for the last 10 years. You can’t see what might have happened, but we know that predating behavior does change.
Now my argument is difficult if not impossible to prove I’ll grant you. However directionally I’m positive it must be correct. Making a binary argument: obviously if a fish is caught every day/week/month/year of it’s life it isn’t going to have a great chance of reaching it's potential - it will change it's predating behavior. If a fish never had it's life threatened by fishing, it will also not go through the stimulus that will make it even 1% more picky on eating any or a certain type of prey. I think those changes make a big difference, but we can't see what doesn't happen.
Optimal growth will have an optimal environment where a fish eats everything that is beneficial without regard. Now my argument of never catching your fish isn’t practical for 99.9999% of the ponds in the world. 1) it’s not fun, and 2) fishing is actually required in most ponds to harvest – especially man-made ponds that we all love and manage or fish can't maximize their growth anyway for other reasons.
Don’t fish with pellets.
But one step below the ultimate don’t catch your fish theory is the “don’t catch your fish on the most plentiful prey theory”. The idea here is that the whatever the fish eats most in its life you want it eating without abandon. I fish in my pond because of the above points. But I fish with goofy looking things that don’t resemble natural prey. Why? First because I have goals of super fish (and in 5-8 years we can see if it works), and because even in a short period of time I can tell the fish get tentative towards a goofy grub on a red jig-head. I don’t mind that because they don’t really grow by eating those. I just don’t want them getting shy, even a little shy, of eating a pellet or other natural prey.
If my goals were to just have fun with my pond, and make fishing easy – what the heck. But really if I want to catch fish I’ve never fished anywhere in my life that’s easier to catch fish than a private pond – no matter what lure I’m using.
Pellets, wonderful pellets.
So in the end, why would I want any individual fish, or all my fish, getting wary of the magical pellet? It’s the easiest food for them to eat, and I want them eating as many of the darn things as they can. Ever seen a fish get tired chasing a pellet? Pellets are like me eating a perfectly nutrition meal sitting on the couch.
Now I’d argue that we’re cheating nature with almost everything we pondmeisters do to manage our ponds, but that’s the fun of it. But isn’t fish food the most wonderful cheating yet? Food is almost always the limiting factor in growth, and we get to stuff their mouths with Aquamax everyday.
Why would I want them ever giving a pellet a second look, for even a second?